Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Mid-December Sunday Salon: December 12, 2021

Hello from sunny Florida! We've had a week full of  holiday preparation, last-minute remodel issues, and shopping. It looks like the new space will be usable in time for Christmas visitors, but the glass shower door may or, more likely, may not get delivered and installed. It will be fine either way. Still, I was beyond shocked when the painters showed up at 7:30 this morning... a Sunday!

Recent Reading//

by Anderson Cooper, narrated by the author

This was a follow-up to The Last Castle, a history of the Biltmore Estate, which I read during Nonfiction November. I enjoyed this book even more thanks, in large part, to Anderson Cooper's narration. Still, even after two books about the Vanderbilts, I find the names (so many variations of the same ones!) and relationships somewhat confusing. I should have downloaded that family tree...

It was interesting to listen to a sweeping history of the Vanderbilt family from Cooper's perspective. Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as "The Commodore", built the famous shipping and railroad empire and accumulated enormous wealth, only to have it later squandered by his descendants. Along the way we encounter the sinking of the Lusitania (with a Vanderbilt aboard), a detailed account of an America's Cup Race (a Vanderbilt was sailing), and quite a bit about Truman Capote (friend of Gloria). This was certainly a wide-ranging history.

Cooper's mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, was always reluctant to talk about her family, but began to open up toward the end of her life. I am tempted to pick up his earlier book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. It sounds like Cooper finally got to know and understand his mother as she shared these details about her life.

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
narrated by Amanda Carlin, Matthew Lloyd Davies, Gibson Frazier, Jackie Sanders, Carly Robins, Fred Sanders

After consuming so much nonfiction, I needed a complete change of pace. Annie Jones, of From the Front Porch podcast, has mention this title many times as a delightful, lighter read. Last summer I purchased a paperback copy to save for just the right time... and this was definitely it. 

The opening sentence made me laugh. I quickly slipped into the adventures of a host of flawed, but likable characters. Set mostly in rural Connecticut, with brief forays into Manhattan, this book has been described as  a "hilarious and heartfelt novel about a perfectly imperfect summer of love, secrets, and second chances." Most of the main characters are musicians (as the title implies) and that made the whole thing even more fun.

When I discovered a multi-narrator audio production available at the library, I downloaded that, too, to make it a read/listen combination. I love multiple narrators and haven't listened to a production like this in a long time. It doesn't disappoint.

Up next//

 by Eli Saslow

This book was already on my wishlist, but last week Susie from Novel Visits listed it as one of her favorite audios of 2021. With one audible credit about to expire, that was just the nudge I needed! I'm planning to start on my walk tomorrow.

I'll also start a book in print... probably more lighter fiction. Under consideration are The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson  or Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher.

On the blog//

The week ahead//
The family starts arriving on Friday. I'm not sure how much I'll be around the next couple of weeks, but will certainly be back with a yearly wrap-up and  2021 favorites. Happy Holidays to all!

How was your week? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Nonfiction November: It's a Wrap!

Nonfiction November, my favorite blogging event of the year, has come to a close. Overall, it was a great month. I managed to participate in three of the five weekly prompts and read six books, including five nonfiction. Not only is this better than I've done in recent years, it's much better than I was expecting to do this year as life begins to approach normal. 

Nonfiction November Blog Posts

Books Read for Nonfiction November

by Stanley Tucci, narrated by the author  
5 stars (my thoughts)

Book Love by Debbie Tung 
5 stars (brief thoughts)

3.5 stars (my thoughts)

5 stars (my thoughts)

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett 
4.5 stars (my thoughts)

I would be hard-pressed to select a favorite from this group. So, let me say that Taste  was my favorite memoir, Book Love  the best graphic work, How the Word is Passed  my favorite history, and These Precious Days  my favorite essay collection. I don't think I've ever read so many great books in a single month.

Thanks, once again, to all five of our hosts. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Sunday Salon: And Now It's December

Hello and Happy Sunday... hard to believe we've moved on to December, isn't it? I missed checking in last weekend. After Twin A and her new boyfriend (a great guy!) left on Sunday, I collapsed on the couch for the rest of the day. Thanksgiving week was wonderful, but exhausting! The festive activities continued into Monday with a birthday party for my sister-in-law and, on Tuesday, we celebrated our 36th anniversary. By the time December rolled around on Wednesday, I was more than ready for a quiet couple of days.

Recent reading//


This book, which I learned about and read during Nonfiction November, was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2021 by the New York Times. It reads almost like a travelogue as Clint Smith tours several sites central to the history and legacy of slavery, beginning with Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. He shares personal reflections, but also interviews tourists, guides, and activists encountered along the way. Smith  "holds up a mirror to America’s fraught relationship with its past, capturing a potent mixture of good intentions, earnest corrective, willful ignorance and blatant distortion." This is a must read!

by Ann Patchett, narrated by the author

Ann Patchett is a long-time favorite author and I'm pretty sure I've read every book she's written, fiction and nonfiction. Her novels, it seems, keep getting better and better, but she's always at the top of her game with nonfiction. In this collection of essays, the title essay being the longest,  I feel like I got to know Ann personally. There are essays here about her three fathers, knitting, and her pandemic experience... I pretty much loved them all. The audio added to the experience and it felt like I was listening to an old friend.

Current reading//
by Anderson Cooper, narrated by the author

My current read, a read/listen combination, is a holdover from Nonfiction November. I read The Last Castle  by Denise Kiernan, about the Biltmore Estate, last month and wanted to learn more about the Vanderbilt family. This fits the bill nicely, and I'm enjoying listening to Anderson Cooper on my morning walks. 

On the blog//

In the kitchen//

It's been on the cool side here in southwest Florida, so I tried this Slow Cooker Italian Wedding Soup from Greens & Chocolate. It was delicious, but I wasn't thrilled with the brand of frozen meatballs I bought. Next time I'll probably just make my own. Do you ever buy frozen meatballs? Is there a brand you'd recommend?

Slow cooker meals were appealing to me last week, so I also tried Slow Cooker Coq Au Vin from Betsy Life. It was very flavorful, a bit labor intensive up front, but a satisfying meal. I served it over egg noodles, but next time I would add small potatoes to the slow cooker instead. I'd also thicken the sauce a bit before serving.

The week ahead//

Our downstairs remodel is moving along. The office, family room, and guest room are basically finished. We had a setback with the bathroom and it looks like the shower doors will be the rate-limiting step. The bathroom will be ready by Christmas, but the shower may not. Oh, well...

How was your week? What are you reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Nonfiction November Week #5: New to My TBR

Welcome to Week #5 of Nonfiction November. As this event draws to a close, the final topic is  New to My TBR and our host this week is Jaymi at The OC Book Girl.
It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book! 

I've added quite a few books to my TBR list this month, but I'll start with the one I've already finished.

by Clint Smith 

This book was recommended by Jen at Introverted Reader, then quickly seconded by several other bloggers. I listened to it earlier this month and rated it 5 stars. Don't miss it!

by Helena Merriman 
recommended by Rennie at What's Nonfiction
waiting on my kindle thanks to a recent daily deal

A few more for the wish list:

recommended by Katie @ Doing Dewey


Witness by Louise Milligan
recommended by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell 
recommended by Jane @ Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

recommended by The Book Stop

recommended by Joy @ Joy's Book Blog  

by Mayukh Sen 
recommended by Katie @ Doing Dewey

This is just a sampling of the books added to my wish list this month. There must be at least a dozen more, but this post is already long enough. What books were added to your TBR list this month?

Saturday, November 20, 2021

A Pre-Thanksgiving Sunday Salon


Happy Saturday, friends. My Sunday Salon post is coming to you a day early this week... partly because I don't have a lot to report, but also because our Thanksgiving holiday will begin this evening when Twin A and her boyfriend (we're meeting him for the first time!) fly in from NYC. They'll be here for a week, so I don't expect there will be much reading or blogging during that time.

Current reading//

by Clint Smith 

I learned about this book through several Nonfiction November posts and borrowed both the print and audio editions from my library. Smith has a unique way of presenting this history. It reads almost like a travelogue as he visits landmarks and monuments (just in the south so far, but NYC is an upcoming chapter), beginning with Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Plantation.  An engrossing read so far...

Up next//

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is a long-time favorite author and I was thrilled get a print copy of her new book from the library today... and a little surprised, too, since the book doesn't release until Tuesday! I'm also planning to use an audible credit for the audio, especially since Patchett reads it herself.  Her last essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, was a favorite when I listened in 2014.

On the blog//

Book Brief: Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

In the kitchen//

It's been a while since I shared a new recipe, but I really liked this Miso-Butter Pasta With Butternut Squash from the New York Times. I followed the recipe as written except I used the red miso I had on hand instead of white and omitted the red-pepper flakes. I've since learned that red miso has a stronger flavor than white and I think the white would have produced a more subtle dish. I will use white next time, but this was still a satisfying fall dish. The recipe may be behind the Times  paywall, so let me know if you'd like me to copy and email it to you.

Of course,  the kitchen will be humming with Thanksgiving prep this week. There will only be 6 or 7 of us this year (compared with 20-30 when we lived in NY) but we are so happy to be able to gather again.

From the cameral roll//

This yellow-crowned night heron dropped in during our dinner at the marina Friday night, much to the delight of all!

How was your week? What have you been reading lately?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Book Brief: Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

by Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2021
256 pages

Oh, how I loved this book! It is Strout's third venture into the word of Lucy Barton.  Beginning with My Name is Lucy Barton,  Strout moved on to Anything is Possible,  a book of short stories featuring characters introduced in the first book, plus more about Lucy. This new novel, set decades later, is about Lucy's first husband William, their relationship, and Lucy's reflections on life itself. 

Elizabeth Strout has long been one of my favorite authors and, with each novel she writes, I am reminded of all the reasons why. I am struck time and again by her insights into the human condition. Oh William!  is a quiet, character-driven novel filled with simple but profound statements about life and what it means to be human. 

This was a read/listen combination for me. Once again, my library came through with both the ebook and audiobook at the same time. The audio is brilliantly performed by Kimberly Farr and is 7 hours long. (I listened at a slightly faster speed.)

The novel could work as a stand-alone, but I think the experience is richer if you already know and understand  Lucy. I didn't remember much about William from previous books, but that didn't seem to matter. I got to know him well here.

My daughter recently attended an in-person literary event with Elizabeth Strout in NYC. She told the fully-vaccinated, masked crowd that she has her next two novels planned. The first is even nearing completion, but she gave no hints as to the subject matter. I think this is wonderful news and am already looking forward to another Strout novel.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Sunday Salon: November 14, 2021

I'm getting my weekend post in under the wire tonight! The last few days have been a blur, but we had an excellent weekend celebrating my husband's birthday. Our daughter and her boyfriend flew in late Thursday night for a whirlwind visit... and we made the most of every minute! We enjoyed  a couple of dinners out, some beach time, a little shopping, and a lot catching up.

Recent reading//

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

I'll post a brief review of this book in a day or two, but for now let me say that I loved it! Strout has long been a favorite and she certainly doesn't disappoint with her latest offering.

by Denise Kiernan, narrated by the author

My third book for Nonfiction November is a history of both The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and the Vanderbilt family. I won a paperback copy in a Goodreads giveaway a couple of years ago and used an audible credit to get the audio edition... I do love read/listen combinations for nonfiction! 

We've visited Biltmore a couple of times over the years (first for the costumes of Downton Abbey and later for a Chihuly exhibit) and I enjoyed this deeper dive into its history.  Kiernan's research was thorough and presented in a logical manner, with just the right mix of the "house" itself, its impact on the local residents, and the Vanderbilt family. 

On the blog//

Likely to read next//

I just learned about this book last week while reading Nonfiction November posts and was happy to discover it on the 'new nonfiction' shelf at the library. I brought home a couple of other books, too, but this is the top contender.

The week ahead//

We have been assured that work will resume on our downstairs renovation, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I also have a couple of routine doctor's appointments. And we're eagerly anticipating the arrival of our other NYC daughter next weekend. She and her new boyfriend (we'll be meeting him for the first time!) will be here for the entire week of Thanksgiving - can't wait!

That's it for me this week. How have you been? What are you reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Nonfiction November Week #2: Book Pairings

Nonfiction November is now in its second week. Our host this week is Katie at Doing Dewey (be sure to visit her for links to participant's posts) and the topic is book pairings.

Nonfiction November Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. 



Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy sent me down a rabbit hole of WWII reading, code breaking, and finally Bletchley Park.  As I said in my review:
This is my kind of narrative nonfiction! It strikes just the right balance between hard history and human interest. Mundy's research is thorough, her writing is great and I learned about something completely new. I wasn't at all familiar with this fascinating story of women recruited from colleges (primarily the Seven Sisters) and trained by the government to break codes during WWII.
A short time later I read The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. I don't read much historical fiction these days, but really enjoyed this story. It's about three very different women who form an unlikely friendship while working at Bletchley Park during WWII. I approached this as a read/listen combination and was always eager to return to the story... and it never felt like 600+ pages! 

There are still several more books, fiction and nonfiction, on this topic I'd like to read before too long.


The titles and subject matter (life as an illegal immigrant) are similar, but  Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang and Infinite Country by Patricia Engel are very distinct works. 

I read Infinite Country  last spring. It is a short, impactful novel about one family's immigration experience... their struggles and hardships in both the U.S. and Colombia, and the separations that result. The book really packs a punch and it's difficult to read at times. [Trigger warning for sexual abuse]  

Infinite Country  does much more than simply tell a good story. It caused me to think more deeply about the issue of immigration and to look at it from a different perspective. To me, that's the difference between a good book and great book. This will end up being one of my favorite novels of the year.

Beautiful Country: A Memoir  was a read/listen combination for me, with the audio version read by author. Qian Julie Wang, along with her mother, left China for NYC in the early 1990s when she was seven years old. They came to join her father, who had arrived a few years earlier. 

It's a sad story about an undocumented child coming of age in a big city, while facing hunger, poverty, and racism. However, compared to Infinite Country, this book on the gentler side. Books, reading, and libraries played an important role in Wang's life. Her love of the written word added an uplifting aspect to an otherwise bleak existence and certainly increased my enjoyment of this memoir. Wang, now in her 30s, went on to attend Swarthmore College and Yale Law School. She had considered writing a memoir for years and finally tackled the project during the pandemic.

Do you ever pair you nonfiction reading with  a novel on the same subject?


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